Jan. 6 panel votes to advance contempt proceedings for Navarro, Scavino
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol on Monday voted to advance contempt of Congress proceedings against two top aides to former President Trump, teeing up possible prosecution by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The contempt report against Dan Scavino, Trump’s former deputy chief of staff for communications, and Peter Navarro, a former trade adviser, will now move to the full House, which must take up for consideration the third and fourth censure of former Trump officials who have defied the committee.
Scavino was subpoenaed by the committee given his proximity to Trump on the day of the riot as well as his efforts promoting the pro-Trump rally that day and his reported participation in multiple conversations about challenging the election.
Navarro was sought after wading into multiple efforts to promote baseless claims of election fraud in the 2020 contest, including working with former White House strategist Stephen Bannon to delay Congress’s certification of the results.
Neither showed for their deposition, nor have they provided a single document to the committee.
“In Mr. Scavino’s case, he strung us along for months before making it clear that he believes he’s above the law. Mr. Navarro, despite sharing relevant details on TV and podcasts and in his own book, has also stonewalled us,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said, noting an initial subpoena in September.
If the House does act on the censure, it’s not clear the Justice Department will pursue charges against the men.
The department has yet to act on a December contempt report for former chief of staff Mark Meadows, but a trial for Bannon will begin this summer. He faces up to two years in prison as well as fines as high as $200,000.
The vote comes as a court on Monday sided with the committee in a separate case ordering records released to the panel — a decision that backed the committee’s argument that Trump committed a crime in the course of seeking to unwind the 2020 election.
Scavino was one of the first four people to be subpoenaed by the panel. His censure comes after the former White House staffer secured six delays from the committee and was even served by the committee twice after his attorney questioned the validity of an initial subpoena accepted on his behalf.
Both Scavino and Navarro have said they should not have to speak with the committee due to executive privilege concerns from Trump, though President Biden has waived any executive privilege claims over documents concerning the two men.
“It’s important to note that even if a President has formally invoked executive privilege regarding testimony of a witness — which is not the case here — that witness has the obligation to sit down under oath and assert the privilege question by question. But these witnesses didn’t even bother to show up,” Thompson said.
“Second, even if the ex-President had a legitimate claim to executive privilege, this is a privilege that applies to things that happened in an official capacity. So if Mr. Scavino and Mr. Navarro are claiming that all the information they have is protected by executive privilege, they’re basically saying that everything they did, they did in their official roles. Paid by the taxpayers,” he added.
While Trump’s attorney communicated executive privilege concerns to Scavino, he did not do so for Navarro.
“Mr. Navarro was not acting as a White House aide advising the President on official matters of policy; he was acting as a Trump campaign operative planning a political effort to obstruct or impede Congress’s Constitutional proceeding to count electoral votes,” Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said at the Monday meeting.
“He has written a book boasting about his role in planning and coordinating the activity of Jan. 6, and yet he does not have the courage to testify here. We have many questions for Mr. Navarro — including about his communications with Roger Stone and Steve Bannon regarding the planning for Jan. 6,” she added.
Navarro pushed back on the report in a Sunday night statement.
“The Select Committee’s witch hunt is predicated on the Big Lie legal premise of a partisan Appeals Court that Joe Biden can waive Donald Trump’s Executive Privilege. The Supreme Court will have none of that when the time comes — as it surely will — and the DOJ knows such nonsense would gut Executive Privilege and the critical role it plays in effective presidential decision making,” he said.
Lawmakers likewise noted Scavino is also sought for activity outside the scope of his job.
“Executive privilege doesn’t allow for a person to simply refuse to appear before a congressional committee, it doesn’t apply to Scavino’s campaign activities on behalf of the former president, it doesn’t apply to a potentially unlawful scheme to obstruct Congress, and it doesn’t apply to his official duties when, as here, the current President of the United States asserts it is not in the public interest to do so,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said.
Trump has challenged the committee’s ability to seek a broad range of his presidential records, a court battle he has largely lost.
Still, in a letter not included in the contempt report but obtained by The Hill, Scavino’s attorney claims a court decision to release Trump records to the committee does not cover Scavino’s own.
“To our knowledge, no records of Mr. Scavino’s were included in ‘the Archivist’s first three tranches’ that were the subject of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion and Mr. Scavino has therefore not produced to the Select Committee copies of those official records in Mr. Scavino’s possession responsive to the Select Committee’s subpoena so as to avoid the inadvertent waiver of a legitimate privilege asserted by former President Trump,” his attorney wrote.
But Cheney contended Scavino still has much information sought by the committee.
“Mr. Scavino worked directly with President Trump to spread President Trump’s false message that the election was stolen, and to recruit Americans to come to Washington with the false promise that January 6th would be an opportunity to ‘take back their country.’ This effort to deceive was widely effective and widely destructive,” she said.
“The Committee has many questions for Mr. Scavino about his political social media work for President Trump, including his interactions with an online forum called ‘The Donald’ and with Qanon, a bizarre and dangerous cult,” she added.
The business meeting comes as the committee is preparing to hold prime-time hearings later in the spring to relay its evidence and make the case to the public of the potential illegality of Trump’s actions. Every member spoke at the meeting, a departure from the previous practice of statements from only the panel’s chair and vice chair.